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Washing fiber in hard water

What does it mean to have “hard” or “soft” water? According to the APEC Water website,

  • Hard water “contains an appreciable quantity of dissolved minerals (like calcium and magnesium).”
  • Soft water, by contrast, is “treated water in which the only ion is sodium.”

The site goes on to explain that rain is by nature “soft,” but as it makes its way into the groundwater system, it picks up minerals such as lime, chalk, and the aforementioned calcium and magnesium. From a taste perspective, harder water is more desirable — the minerals have health benefits, and the flavor is preferable to the sometimes-salty taste of soft water.

But those same minerals are likely to blame for your spotty dishes, the scaly layer inside your kettle, your sticky-feeling hair and that nasty ring around your bathtub. Simply put, they don’t play nicely with soap. Soft water leads to rich, bubbly lather; hard water leads to sticky scum.

The APEC Water article notes that “communities that draw water directly from snow-filled mountain streams enjoy nearly ideal water in terms of a low amount of hardness.” However, the rest of us (an estimated 85% in the US) aren’t as lucky.

Unicorn Fibre prides itself in quickly and effectively removing dirt, grime and particles from raw wool, processed fiber and finished garments and other objects made from fiber. When we do get a call from a less-than-satisfied customer, we almost always find that they are in a market with hard water, without a water-softening system. Such systems can be expensive, so what can you do if you find you’re in such a situation, but want to maximize your use of our Fibre Wash, Fibre Rinse and Power Scour products?

First, don’t subscribe to the “more is better” theory. Using more of the product is not necessarily going to help, as it’s a matter of a chemical reaction of the soap with your mineral-infused water.

What can help, however, is adding a teaspoonful of baking soda to the mix. It helps neutralize the pH in the water without a major impact on the efficacy of the Fibre Wash, Fibre Rinse or Power Scour product.

We’re also currently researching our own Hard Water Booster product, to ensure there is no efficacy impact on our products. We’re looking for participants in our pilot program, so if you’re interested, please send an email to with your name, city, state and any information you can provide about your local soil (clay, sand, silt, etc.). If you’re chosen for the program, we’ll contact you directly for more details. Also, keep up to date on our product innovation progress on our website and on our Facebook, Twitter and Ravelry pages.

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